Thwarted in Malaysia

Posted: November 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

Malaysia is a country of smiles, diversity, temples, mosques, art, jungle, beaches, birds, lizards, monkeys, holidays and food.


From the minute we entered, Malaysia thwarted all of our efforts to travel slowly.  Our intention was to sample both coasts of the peninsula and then choose some favorite spots to hunker down in.   But we’re on a bike and weather matters.  We didn’t want to be influenced by monsoonal days and nights we wanted to see Malaysia with a medium lens, not too bright but also not through a sheet of water.


[And, interrupting the flow, here’s a side rant, who came up with left hand traffic circulation?  It’s frightening from the back of a tandem when Curt accidently forgets and turns into the wrong lane and I have to scream “Wrong way,” while leaning away from certain death.]


On our first ride, from our budget airport hotel to our friend’s house in Kaula Lumpur, we were “Garmined”.   The tricky GPS unit lead us to a muddy two track through stealth garbage dumps, cows and giant polluted puddles before directing us to a paved road that took us on the left side of the road into the city.  At least on the two track there was no worry about what side of the road we were on.  Even when we met the random motorcycle, we would both take the safest, driest available track we could get to, sides didn’t matter.


We arrived at our friends five minutes before the Kuala Lumpur 4 o’clock deluge.  Our friends were loaning us their 3 bedroom apartment, it came complete with a kitchen, a covered deck and within walking distance of almost everything.  They told us that the only downside was that we had to be home or under some covered space from 4 to 6 PM for the daily deluge.  Only problem was, after they left us, the deluge changed schedule.  It became unpredictable, catching us out and about without umbrellas.  We bought umbrellas and checked the forecast hourly.  Despite our preparations the rain found us on our way home with two bags of groceries.  We trudged up the hill hiding under our umbrellas as the wind blew the rain at our sides, then our fronts, the water in the street rose, we trudged against the current trying to walk lightly to avoid the holes and hidden curbs.  To add to our indignity the passing cars threw the dank water up, over and under our umbrellas.  We arrived home gritty with a couple of dry spots on the top of our heads.  It was time to get out of KL and its crazy climate.  We re-researched the Malaysian weather.  The only place not experiencing monsoonal weather was the northern west coast.  The rest of the country would be wet until the end of February.


We left KL a day earlier than planned, as the town was mostly shut for Diwli (an Indian holiday). We headed north toward the west coast on the motorway.  It’s a beautiful, dedicated motorcycle lane that was probably as deadly as any major highway during rush hour.  I dared not wave to all of the friendly riders shouting hello and giving us the thumbs up as I feared I’d knock them off of their cycle or I’d get mangled and crushed.


From KL we spent a couple of days riding flat tropical roads next to date palm plantations.  We saw hornbills,  IMG_3968kingfishers, and sea eagles.  We ate at small open roadside restrons (yup, that’s how you spell restaurant in Malaysia),


drank gallons of water, slept in small budget hotels in tiny towns and at the end of every ride day we found expensive cold beer at the local 7-11.   What we didn’t find for days and days was an open post office.  We had decided to mail all of our warm weather gear including our sleeping bags to our Thai daughter.  The combined weight was 14 pounds and needed 2 boxes.  We were in Kuala Lumpur during Diwali, an Indian holiday that the Malaysians feel they should honor by closing stuff.  Next time we found an open P.O we were only able to mail one box as the post office clerk finished work at 4 o’clock and didn’t want to process our 2nd box.  In the next town it was an important dead person’s birthday and things were closed. We hit the fourth P.O on the right day and time and the sleeping bags were on their way.  We were riding between Kuala Lumpur and George Town, two of the hippest places in Malaysia.  They are so hip that we were able to get away with riding in bike shorts the entire time without getting stared at, abused or yelled at.


Malaysians are so friendly and helpful be they Chinese, Muslim, Indian or migrants, if we stopped for more than 5 minutes or opened a map or looked in a pannier someone would stop to make sure we were okay.  We had people buy us breakfast on more than one occasion, a couple stop and give us gator aid, we were offered rides, help and advice.

The tropical flat terrain was nice and without the winter weight we were putting on some kilometers.  And then we hit some hills, beautiful, jungle, limestone cliff hills with monkeys.  We went from riding 100-kilometer days to 60 and drinking a couple of liters of water to a gallon each.  Every day we passed Mosques, Hindi and Chinese temples and occasionally a church or a Buddhist monastery.



Curt was navigating, steering us safely through Ipoh to our hotel.  I rode sitting upright, snapping photos from the back of the tandem, trying to capture the beauty of the city surrounded by cliffs and the jungle hills.  We had read about the street art of Ipoh and heard about the food from our KL friends.  However, I didn’t understand that I’d get to be a part of the art.  We spent a couple of days playing with and on and photographing the street art while sampling as much of the street food as our bellies could hold.



From Ipoh we rode and stopped and stayed in small towns on our way to the island of Penang.  We queued at the ferry jetty and rode onto the barge with 100’s of other riders on their Honda 150’s to George Town.


George Town is a UNESCO site. We played with more art, met more fun people, drank beer, ate something from every ethnicity, got our visas for Thailand and watched the diverse population interact peacefully despite their religious differences.


Before leaving the island, we had to experience the beach. We booked a budget motel and rode the 18 kilometers to their most famous beach.  Swimming in the sea was not advised.  It is too close to Indonesia, shipping lanes and the portals of raw sewage that escapes George Town to make swimming attractive or safe.  It’s also known for its jelly fish and the bacteria they carry that causes a severe skin reaction that some people attribute to sea lice.  We also discovered and were reminded that it’s a Malaysian beach.  The women of Malaysia do NOT wear bathing suits nor do most of the children, they swim (despite the smell of the water) and play on the beach fully clothed.  The men however can wear shorts and some even go topless.  Thankfully there were a couple of beach bars with affordable, edible food and beer.


There was also an eclectic clientele of Singaporeans, Koreans, Japanese, Thais and retired Europeans.  The people watching was most excellent.   There were also monkeys in the jungle hills surrounding the beach and monitor lizards prowling the sand and sea eagles and tropical birds and flowers and tropical smells and fruit.


So much fruit, every kind of fruit and coconuts, everywhere there were fruit stands and fruit shake stands, and so every day we had to have a shake with breakfast, take a coconut shake break after lunch and have a limeade with dinner.


We left the island the same way we arrived, queued with the motorcycles waiting for the ferry.  The ferry was free for the trip to the mainland.  We rode toward Thailand.  The Garmin counted the ferry kilometers as part of our ride.  We missed 2nd breakfast and elevensies.  We got to our destination just in time for lunch.  Thanks to or agoda we always have a budget hotel ready for us at the middle or end of every day.


The biggest problem has been leaving too early, riding too fast, not stopping enough and not learning and doing it again.

Despite the weather reports we have not experienced any rain while riding.  We’ve had a few crazy rains that have lasted minutes, up to 45 of them, that included thunder, lightening and sheets of no visibility water while checking into hotels, leaving for dinner or sitting in our room looking out, but we have not gotten wet since Kuala Lumpur.


We’ve put on a couple of the pounds we lost riding in cold, wet, mountainous Spain.  Despite the price of beer and the occasional bottle of wine that we carry we’ve stayed in budget.  We’ve not experienced mosquitoes, bedbugs or any other tropical insect bites or terrors.  Malaysia is a beautiful country, full of kind, thoughtful people.  The food is good, it doesn’t always rain and the sea on the east coast is swimmable.  Despite our like of the place it continues to thwart us from returning.  We had plans to come back and cycle the east coast after the rains had stopped in March and truly ride out our three-month visa, but Ramadan starts in mid-April.  A month of hunger, riding, and no beer will not make the place look better in our eyes or our journals.


  1. Sharon Macconnach says:

    I love reading your tandem adventure tales. Keep them coming.


  2. Tom Murphy says:

    Great stories, fun to learn about Malaysia and your fluid journey. Pics great too – thanks.


  3. Maureen Russell says:

    I loved reading about your crazy adventures and will now get out my world atlas to orient myself geographically. You are escaping all the real crazy stuff in the USA. Reading columns by John Meacham in the Washington Post keeps me sane. The photos are terrific and all my Art-Exiled art objects decorate my world!


  4. Nancy Nettik says:

    What an amazing adventure you two are having! Thanks for sharing


  5. Jo says:

    Great! Amazing pics and story and I also know exactly what to so if I get one of those nasty tow fungal infections 😆 ( BTW, we ride on the left in ‘shtraya. When we’re not being run down.Right is plain weird. I hear ya, Malaysia!)


    • Brian & Penny says:

      Well done, the two! Many travel & think they can write entertainingly, but few can match you for the pictures you paint & the quips you make! And we do understand your panic at the thought of being “beerless” at times of great need!
      And, er,happy Christmas!


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